We analyze observed and simulated winds and gusts occurring before, during, and immediately after the ignition of the Thomas fire of December 2017. This fire started in Ventura county during a record-long Santa Ana wind event from two closely located but independent ignitions and grew to become (briefly) the largest by area burned in modern California history. Observations placed wind gusts as high as 35 m/s within 40 km of the ignition sites, but stations much closer to them reported much lower speeds. Our analysis of these records indicate these low wind reports (especially from cooperative “CWOP” stations) are neither reliable nor representative of conditions at the fire origin sites. Model simulations verified against available better quality observations indicate downslope wind conditions existed that placed the fastest winds on the lee slope locations where the fires are suspected to have started. A crude gust estimate suggests winds as fast as 32 m/s occurred at the time of the first fire origin, with higher speeds attained later.
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